Jumping through hoops: Does the Google Partner Program still Hold Value for Agencies?

The recent changes to the Google Partners program point to a more automated way in which Google wants advertisers and digital marketing agencies to use their Google Ads system. 

As of June this year, in order for agencies to remain Google Partners, they will have to meet a new level of criteria. Not only has the spend threshold doubled, but it’s the changes to performance targets, wrapped up in Google’s new optimization score, which has ruffled a few feathers in the digital marketing industry. Many of the recommendations that come with this new score have been criticized for being too generic, too reliant on automation and most commonly of all, too focused on mindlessly increasing budgets.

When we dig into the acceptable optimization score more closely, Google is looking for a figure of 70% (or higher) across each account. The difficulty comes when you discover that in order for your accounts to reach this score, they will have no choice but to use Google’s automated recommendations. These recommendations are often automated and can include some adjustments that smaller advertisers could find quite restrictive; raising the target CPA to a level far beyond what historical performance would suggest is necessary, for example. 

There doesn’t appear to be an effective workaround for this issue and as Google has been quick to point out, simply dismissing these suggestions will not work, resulting in a low optimisation score and in turn, putting an agency’s partner accreditation at risk.

Digital marketing agencies are facing a moral dilemma: Keep the Google Partner badge (with all the problems it entails) and look great at a client pitch, or ditch it and face having to explain why you’re one of the few agencies not to have the accreditation. It’s not an easy choice to make, especially when you consider how integral Google’s paid search tools are to the digital strategies of many businesses.

It’s not just us who are concerned, however. I’ve checked out social media to see what people in the industry are saying about the changes, and it’s not great news for Google!

@gregfinn – Replying to @GoogleAds

You should be ashamed of yourself. Forcing advertisers to adhere to @googleAds recommendations instead of client needs. Despicable.

@krysmariec – Replying to @GoogleAds

It seems like the requirements weren’t thought through. Small businesses will lose their status (e.g. less people certified than you require) – unless we start asking clients to get certified. What benefits? I haven’t seen any benefits from the Partner Badge.

@BrettDixon – Replying to @GoogleAds

Must accept automated recommendations (that are often terrible) even if irrelevant to clients or lose your badge? You want 61 members of our agency to get qualified – we don’t employ 61 people! It REALLY looks like an exercise to maximise revenue from advertisers.  Not great.

What is clear from Google’s perspective is that these changes are now cast in stone, which means that for the foreseeable future, many digital marketing agencies are going to have to walk the tightrope between Google’s own optimization score requirements and the requirements of their clients. This becomes even more difficult when you consider that the majority of businesses who use Google Ads do so on incredibly tight margins, with no room for automated CPA experiments and budget increases. 

I’ve been running GoldLadder for nearly 20 years. We were one of the first SME’s to qualify for the Google Partner’s badge and in response to the recent changes, I thought I’d offer my unedited thoughts on the topic: Be honest and open with your current clients, explain what is happening and give reasons why you would not want to use some Google’s recommendations. If this means that as a company, we lose the badge, then so be it. I believe in delivering a tailored, cost effective search marketing strategy that fits the needs of each client, irrespective of what the optimization score might say.